Religion in the classroom
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12-09-2013, 09:46 AM
Religion in the classroom
I work as a Biology teacher and in my college classes I could never get a straight answer as to how to handle 'religion' in the classroom. I am strongly atheist, but also work in the middle of Kansas, so feel like I have to walk on eggshells with these topics. Here's a few examples:

A student says: the bible says "insert quote here," so (evolution, the big bang, age of the earth, etc) are not true!

I, many times, want to reply with, "the bible also says we can own slaves, kill children, and stone any women that aren't virgins when they marry."

Their textbooks also like to point out that scientists such as Gregor Mendel were monks, but fail to address how religion has negatively affected scientific progress.

Am I within my bounds to say/discuss such topics? It could easily be construed as anti-religious.
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12-09-2013, 09:58 AM (This post was last modified: 12-09-2013 10:04 AM by DLJ.)
RE: Religion in the classroom
Perhaps:

"1. This is a science class.

2. Please provide scientific evidence of your claims and we can discuss them as such, otherwise... this is not a mythology class.

3. We don't teach alchemy or astrology or creation anymore; we teach chemistry, cosmology, physics and biology.

4. The best thing the early church ever did was set up the first (European) universities.

5. If the bible says "insert quote here," so (evolution, the big bang, age of the earth, etc) are not true! we can trust illiterate bronze-age goat-herding desert dwellers or we can look at the actual evidence and determine that the bible may contain a few errors. What do you think?"

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12-09-2013, 10:09 AM
RE: Religion in the classroom
You maybe could reply with the science end of things and find ways of explaining it that make sense.

The bible shouldn't be discussed in a science class. Not even as an example because the true believer ilk will just be pushed further away.

When explaining that question to my son, who's in 8th grade science was to say that we have a common ancestor with apes and monkeys. (someone else brought up the bible in class and he's totally clueless about god or the idea of god).

It doesn't mean that we "came" from apes. Just like my son has an uncle. He didn't "come" from his uncle. He came from us. But the common ancestor would be grandparents....


Wind's in the east, a mist coming in
Like something is brewing and about to begin
Can't put my finger on what lies in store
but I feel what's to happen has happened before...


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12-09-2013, 10:31 AM
RE: Religion in the classroom
(12-09-2013 10:09 AM)Momsurroundedbyboys Wrote:  You maybe could reply with the science end of things and find ways of explaining it that make sense.

The bible shouldn't be discussed in a science class. Not even as an example because the true believer ilk will just be pushed further away.

When explaining that question to my son, who's in 8th grade science was to say that we have a common ancestor with apes and monkeys. (someone else brought up the bible in class and he's totally clueless about god or the idea of god).

It doesn't mean that we "came" from apes. Just like my son has an uncle. He didn't "come" from his uncle. He came from us. But the common ancestor would be grandparents....


This is what I am especially concerned with: "the true believer ilk will just be pushed further away."

Around here, many people take the bible as 'scientific' evidence, and teach their kids this. Last year a young earth creationist came into town and many parents took their kids to listen to this fool.

All science teachers have to deal with scientific illiteracy, but some of us have to deal with years of anti-science brainwashing--this can be very difficult, and is an art form that I am hoping to someday master.
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12-09-2013, 10:48 AM
RE: Religion in the classroom
"This is a science class - the Bible is not a science book."

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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12-09-2013, 10:51 AM
RE: Religion in the classroom
I’ve taught science for awhile too.
I’ve had students ask questions like:

“What happens when the sun and all the planets line up”? I figured this to be some sort of astrology related question, or simply a real curiosity. I clarified what that would mean to line up, and how improbable and rare an event that would actually have to be for every planet to do so. Plus their axial tilts would prevent them from ever actually being in a straight line. At best they could be within some large degree space from each other, but not much better. But then explain, even if by chance all the planets were in a straight line out from the sun for a moment, it would have no impact on the earth and it would simply be another day.

The student replied, “My mother says on that day the devil has more power”.

My response was to reiterate, “Nothing different would happen than on any other day”. What else could you say to that?


I had another student who came to me after class, told me she was working on a project about evolution and wanted to know what the evidence was for it. I thought that was awesome as it was a question that went in more depth than what they needed to learn at that point in their lessons. I explained a lot of details about comparative anatomy, vestigial appendages, the fossil record and it’s stratification, radiometric dating of those layers, DNA comparisons between related and distant species, embryology, vestigial genes, virology,…on and on and on…

It was great because she seemed to be really amazed and kept asking great questions that lead to more answers that I could tell she was really absorbing and was really grasping as I explained it. It’s one of those rare moments when teaching a child that you really get to enjoy teaching a subject because there is a really back and forth of exchange of questions and ideas, and they are actually being understood and used to draw farther conclusions and questions.

When we were done I asked her who or what the project was for, as it was not for school. She said it was for project her pastor assigned for bible camp. I’m pretty sure the pastor didn’t expect her to actually go find real information. I suspect he wanted her to look to the bible for reasons why evolution was not true.

As far as what you do, simply teach what is real.

...
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12-09-2013, 01:32 PM
RE: Religion in the classroom
This is a touchy area, and unfortunately, you haven't been given solid boundaries as to what is acceptable to discuss or teach, or what is not, which makes it difficult to know what's appropriate and even more difficult for us to offer advice who have never had to appease school administration.

As far as teaching in your class, I would tread light on these topics. Teaching evolution as fact will almost certainly come back to bite you, and that's not really the goal of teaching anyways. Your responsibility as a teacher, I think, is to show the students the facts and theories that are out there and let them come to their own conclusions about these topics. Instead of saying "this is how we got here" or even "this is what I believe, and here is why" try an approach like, "all current evidence that we have found in nature has led us to believe that this is how life progressed on this planet, but scientific theories are ever evolving with new information and always open to change."

If students try to refute what you say with things from their religious upbringing, just keep in mind that this is what they've been taught as absolute truth their entire lives and hearing another view they never even knew existed, much less which is more credible, may be earth shattering to them. They may not believe it and may be in denial, or feel as though their parents have been lying to them their entire lives and feel betrayed. The response you choose has the potential to show them one of two things: 1- that the things they have been taught have no evidence, make no room for new information or differing viewpoints, and are taught by people whose relationship with them is entirely conditional on them believing these things, while this new viewpoint offers evidence, allows discussions, doubt, and interpretations, and (hopefully) comes from a compassionate person who will not stop caring if they choose a different viewpoint. Or 2- that this new information is not only scary and has no room for discussion (IE this is irrefutable fact), but is also unfamiliar territory, which may be enough in itself for them to choose not to listen to what you are teaching. You have to choose words that will show them, without saying that what they believe is wrong, that there is ample evidence for evolution but that the creation of the universe is miraculous regardless of how it happened. Maybe you could frame it with something other than 'evolution vs creationism', which is going to offend someone just by it's very nature. Maybe presenting it with the focus instead on understanding how plants and animals function on this planet or what elements are necessary for life here or elsewhere could lead them in with more open minds.

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it- not even if I have said it- unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. - Buddha
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12-09-2013, 03:08 PM
RE: Religion in the classroom
Just tell the kid he or she is free to believe what they want. However if they want to pass to course, they are going to have to learn and understand the material covered in the text and that you will be happy to help them with that. Don't over complicate it.

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13-09-2013, 05:13 AM
RE: Religion in the classroom
I'd say that all you can do in such situations is to focus on the scientific evidence. I think it would be safe to say that there are many interpretations of the Bible, and that there are a number of prominent scientists and religious figures that consider evolution to be valid and not inconsistent with their faith:
--Francis Collins, lead scientist on the human genome project, wrote a book about his faith and its relation to his science, including where evolution fits in
--Ken Miller, Biologist and writer of science text books, involved in the Kitzmiller v Dover trial as it was his text book that Creationists objected to being used due to its being 'laced with Darwinism". There's a PBS NOVA episode "Intelligent Design On Trial" that may be an appropriate video to show in a Biology class.
--The Pope--at least Ratzinger a.k.a. Pope Benedict, I know has publicly pronounced that Evolution is a valid scientific theory not in conflict with the faith
--William Lane Craig, well known Christian apologist who has called creationism an embarrassment, and has stated that evolution is consistent with his faith

There may be many other Christians who support creationism. However the reason to bring these examples up is to show that some who are known and respected in science and religion have chosen to reconcile their faith with what is clear and convincing scientific evidence. You are not saying their religious interpretations are the right religious interpretations, but simply pointing out that a science class isn't the right place to determine which religious interpretations are correct. Science class is only looking at science that is based on empirical evidence.
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18-09-2013, 01:35 PM
RE: Religion in the classroom
Today was just AWFUL. We had a religious theatre group at our school and before and after the play the pastor held a sermon. He repeated about a billion times how we were all God's children, how we Christians were all brothers and sisters. I don't know what you think but in my opinion that guy was unbelievably rude and arrogant. I know for sure that there are some Muslims in my school. And what about the atheists. Now at that point I was already rolling my eyes but when he started complaining how science made pious people to leave the Christian faith the only Truth in the world I snapped. I got up and asked him how he knew that and why he thought he could understand this God's mind. And then I said that he might already be an atheist himself or at least he had doubts. Because if he didn't have them then why would he fear science? If he was convinced 100% that it were true surely he would believe science would one day prove God's existence
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